Second Day: South Fork of Cascade Canyon to Death Canyon Shelf

10:55AM, Saturday

Woke this morning at 9am and decided I had better get up – not much of an early start, but that’s okay. I have about 10 miles to go today.

Last night I had read by headlamp until I grew sleepy. I slept in a down sleeping bag with a sleeping pad tucked inside, underneath me. For layers I wore Capilene top and bottom, fleece on top, pants on bottom and shorts over my pants just ’cause I could. I also tied my bandanna over my head since I had not brought a hat, and wore mittens. For a pillow I just used my rain coat, folded up. I slept well – and long!

Now I packed everything up – rainfly (which held up well last night, in spite of the wind. I am glad I had it as it rained on and off), hammock, sleeping bag, sleeping pad. Applesauce and granola bar for breakfast, after I had retrieved the bear box from its nocturnal hiding place. No oatmeal, ha ha!

Backpack feels lighter, but that may just be my imagination. My hips are a bit sore but overall I am finding it easier to hike.

Cloudy again – but there are patches of blue sky which offer a welcome variance. I am behind the Tetons now, in the thick of them. The Cathedral Group (Mt. Owen, Grand Teton, Teewinot) is to my left, and I am curving around them, slowly passing them. Disappearing behind me is the tail end of the spiky, fan-like mountain, Mt. St. John.

About another mile in the camping zone and then I head over Hurricane Pass and into the Alaska Basin. Still hiking slowly but hopefully I will reach my next campsite in good timing.

Starting to drizzle again.

[Some people passing by as I wrote this told me it all looked like the cover to a hiking magazine – me sitting by the trail, pack off, writing in my journal]

11:30AM, Saturday

Some hikers that just passed by warned me that they had seen a bear further on, where the path leveled out. They said it had crossed their path several times and had hung around a couple that had been camping overnight – but did not seem too interested in anything besides its own business. I thanked them for letting me know and now I’m clapping my hands and calling as I go. It would be neat to see the bear – I know the only dangerous thing about them is if they are startled, so I am keeping my eyes peeled.

12:15PM, Saturday

No bear… phooey. Figures though. On Cascade Canyon others had seen deer and a moose – I saw nada.

Just finished climbing and was hoping that was it – but no, I am in a rocky, barren bowl now (the only way out is up!) and some hikers passing by said I will be climbing more. At about 10,000 elevation now. They estimated 4 miles to Alaska Basin and 3 more to the Death Shelf.

Well, not literally death….

It is getting very windy but the little dinky thermometer thing I bought (in order to know how cold it got at night – and wouldn’t ya know it, I forgot to look last night) is showing only 55 degrees F. There is definitely a wind chill…

Schoolhouse Glacier as I head up Hurricane Pass

1PM, Saturday

Hurricane Pass was a tough climb, but as I hiked the view grew increasingly spectacular. I stopped a lot on the way up trying to get pictures of the view behind me. I say “trying” because it is frustratingly impossible to capture the colors, the depths and distances. Then I reached the top of that climb and was greeted with a howling gust of wind and the Idaho-side mountains.  To my left, a jade-colored lake and in the distance the Tetons.

Climbing out of the bowl, Tetons at my back.

And to my right…

At the top – Idaho on the other side!

I walked along that ridge for a ways, stopping for a moment to tie my bandanna around my hair – because even in a braid it was going crazy. The only sound was my breathing, the wind, and the sound of my camping permit attached to my backpack fluttering behind me. The ridge continued, flat and barren, before beginning a steady slope down into the Alaska Basin.

I had heard a lot about the Alaska Basin and how lush the wildflowers were there. I was a couple weeks late – there were some yellow flowers but even the Indian Paintbrush was gone.

Entering Alaska Basin

Wildflowers are all gone, instead there are fall colors…

3:20PM, Saturday

Sunset Lake in the Alaska Basin

I stopped for lunch at Sunset Lake at 2pm and as I ate it began to lightly drizzle. I put on my rain jacket, even though the clouds did not look that threatening. In the next ten minutes darker clouds rolled in from the west, over the mountaintops, and it began to rain heavier.

I packed up and started moving again. Hail mixed with the rain and thunder rolled behind me, sounding every bit like the growling stomach of a hungry god. With every lightning flash I blinked and then thought, “I’m glad that one didn’t strike me.” I suddenly felt very exposed, but didn’t want to stop moving. I started munching on banana chips as I walked, since I hadn’t finished my lunch.

Why did it seem like I was always munching on something when a calamity was a possibility?

It rained for an hour as I walked through the Alaska Basin, never slowing and taking no pictures.

When the rain began to slacken a bit, I stopped at a little muddy pond because some people had told me there’s no water in the Death Canyon Shelf camping zone, so be sure and fill up before you reach it. I got out the water filter and, standing near a relatively deep part of the pond, started pumping water into my bottle, trying to stir up as little mud as possible. Then I heard an odd clinking/thunking sound and looked up to see my backpack had fallen over from the grassy spot I had set it on. Into the mud. Dang it.

I ran back over to the other side of the pond and wiped mud of the backpack, then rinsed my hands in the pond. Wiped mud off, rinsed my hands. Then dragged the backpack a little ways on the grass. It looked a little better, but still muddy. Borrowed backpack, too. I’d have some cleaning to do when I go back…

Fortunately the rain/thunder/hail did not last too long.

6:30PM, Saturday

With every hill I climb I keep telling myself, ‘this is the last uphill I have to do…’ And with Mt. Meek, it was pretty much true. From here it’s pretty much flat or downhill. Once I reach Fox Creek Pass – a lot of downhill.

It was a relief to reach the Death Shelf camping zone, which I did around 4:30pm. I wanted to keep hiking at least to the group campsite, which was halfway through the zone. After all I work at 5pm tomorrow… The weather made the decision for me, though. Gray clouds rolled in again and I heard thunder.

I veered off the trail and have found a good spot in a cluster of trees. I tied the rainfly taut and close to the hammock, which should help if it gets stormy again tonight. There are a couple squirrels that live in these trees and they have been very vocal about my invasion into their tiny area of the mountains.

I just hope they don’t come over and start nibbling on the ropes. 🙂

I read for a while and when I got up to eat dinner, it was sooo cold. I was shivering as I ate my can of ravioli. Ate fast and hid my bear box not even 100 feet from my campsite – I was too cold to hike further. Put on ALL of my layers and got into my sleeping bag. It hailed hard for a long time (noisy!) and it was colder then it had been the previous night. In pegging the rainfly closer to my hammock, I accidentally did it a little too close and the rain was dripping onto my hammock and sleeping bag… so I had to get up and tighten the strings a bit.

Slept a bit lighter and more restless than I had the night before. But I slept. 🙂